Sister Spotlights
3 MIN. READ

A legacy of transformation

“Have you ever heard of Momentum?”

Maxine Kaufman had recently moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to work at the Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast. While planning their programming, a colleague brought up Momentum.

Maxine was familiar – but her children were grown, so the opportunity to experience Momentum had passed.

Or so she thought.

“Their next question was, ‘Can you bring it to our community?’” said Maxine. “And I said yes. Absolutely.”

A year later, in November of 2019, the Federation partnered with Momentum to send their first group of participants on a MOMentum Trip to Israel – with Maxine as their Community Leader.

A trip that transforms

“I’d been to Israel before, but this was the best trip I’ve ever been on,” said Maxine. To Maxine, it felt like the all-girls camp she attended as a child. “There’s something about being with all women, not having to worry about impressing anyone or looking too done up. You feel this freedom to just focus on you and what you’re learning.”

Maxine was able to revisit her favorite place: Tzfat. Tzfat’s winding streets and elevated mysticism calmed and centered Maxine – and she was grateful to share that feeling with the women on her trip, and to introduce several of them to the Director of the International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah Rabbi Eyal Riess.

They listened to Rabbi Riess speak about Kabbalah, and each woman had the opportunity to ask the Rabbi for a personal blessing.

“One woman, who was going through a divorce, asked for guidance in finding a meaningful end to what had been a difficult time,” said Maxine. “She asked for resolve, and the ability to open up her heart again.”

That blessing took some time to manifest. Yet, a year later, that woman met someone new – “and now, she’s engaged.”

“​​I am very proud of what I’ve brought to this community. We’ve gotten people interested and invested in Jewish life, and I just hope that I can continue that momentum.”

A zany idea leaves a lasting legacy

Maxine’s years of service did not begin at the Federation. She has been making an impact on her community for years – and ensuring that her son’s legacy makes an impact, too.

Before moving to St. Petersburg, Maxine lived in Palm Beach and served as the Executive Director of Palm Beach Synagogue.

Maxine’s daughter, Aimee, had embarked on her own Jewish journey several years before, beginning with a gap year in Israel and culminating in a plan to make aliyah and join the Israeli Defense Forces.

Then, Maxine’s son, Evan, lost his life in a car accident. He was 21 years old.

After her brother’s death, Aimee postponed her plans for several months. Their world had shattered, but Maxine and her family still sought ways to honor Evan’s memory that were true to his positive outlook, his kindness, his energy – and his entrepreneurial spirit.

While in college, Evan imagined a themed “cereal bar” restaurant that catered to late night crowds – where towering lucite cylinders dispensed colorful breakfast cereals alongside every milk and milk substitute one could imagine.

“He had a whole business plan,” said Maxine, “but he never got to see it come to fruition.”

Evan died on Shavuot, during which Jewish people around the world celebrate by staying up late studying Torah – and fuel their all-nighter with sweets and dairy.

It gave Maxine an idea: “What greater way is there to stay up all night than with a bowl of cereal?” She reached out to the synagogue’s leadership to share Evan’s dream – and, on the first anniversary of his death, Evan’s Cereal Bar was established. To this very day, Maxine’s friends in Palm Beach still make Evan’s dream a reality each year.

Reaching out to the Jewish world

As the Executive Director of the Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Maxine set out to connect her new community – an area that covers St. Petersburg, as well as the counties of Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando – with the rest of the Jewish world.

Under Maxine’s leadership, the Federation has also reinvigorated its day camp, bringing together Jewish children from across the St. Petersburg area. During the day camp’s first year, “I was the bus counselor,” said Maxine. “Kids were coming from 60 miles away, and I did everything I could to make sure they got to camp – whether it was riding the bus because there needed to be a chaperone, or driving them myself in my own car.”

One of her most successful endeavors has been Partnership2Gether, a program that pairs American and Israeli cities to create networks of support, friendship, and understanding, and has matched St. Petersburg with Hadera, a city in northern Israel.

“​​I am very proud of what I’ve brought to this community. We’ve gotten people interested and invested in Jewish life, and I just hope that I can continue that momentum.”


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For Jewish mothers with children age 18 and under

FREE (excl. airfare)

Each woman receives a $3650 scholarship

Partner organization contributes $700 per woman

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